Friday, 25 October 2013

The Binatone Brick

It's not often we get something in genuinely unique, based more on style than functionality, but this week we have just that. The Binatone Brick is modelled on the Motorola DynaTAC, which was unsympathetically nicknamed the brick, because of it's sheer bulk. Having said that, at the time, it was a massive leap from the car battery and curly cord affairs that were lugged around by the 80's 1%! This handset is, frankly ginormous by todays standards. You can, if you choose, put a sim card in it and use it as your main phone. Or if you prefer, you can connect it via bluetooth to your smartphone and use it separately. It wedges beautifully between your shoulder and head but is not a road legal handsfree kit.
It's compatible with the 2G network, so is capable of sending SMS messages as well as making and receiving calls. It has digital call quality so calls are clear and hiss free. Not only that, but, it has a memory card slot.... It includes a music player, although ironically, it doesn't have a headphone socket! However the speaker is clear and bright should you wish to listen to A-ha, Kajagoogoo, or Queen. This phone isn't subtle, if, in the highly unlikely situation you were ever turning this device on in an Airport, everyone around you would expect flight information to follow, it makes that exact noise; loudly! The menus are clear and simple, anyone who has owned a 'normal' phone in the past 18 year, will, without a shadow of a doubt, pick this up and use it genuinely easily. For some customers, with a sense of humour, this genuinely could be all that they actually need. In true retro style, the battery life is phenomenal. The default battery, (which looks like a cheap nokia clone) will last on standby for 1 month! As additional accessories, they have XL and XXL batteries which will last up to 3 and 6 months respectively! Half a year standby off one battery charge! It has a USB port in the side of the phone for charging. Finally, it also has on the top of the phone a Torch. It's clearly not for everyone only those who are comfortable being laughed at. But, as a novelty item, it's surprisingly competent. Do I want one. No of course I don't.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Samsung Galaxy Gear.

We had the Sony Smart watch in some months ago, however, it wasn't a great experience. To start, the watch looks cumbersome and plastic, the screen resolution was poor, the functionality clumsy and the effective usefulness virtually nil. I wore it for a day or two, then realised I looked like an idiot and it did nothing I want, so it's sat, unreviewed on my shelf ever since, gathering dust. Sadly now, I no longer use an android handset, but the Samsung Galaxy Gear really makes me wish I did. Sure it's not perfect, but look at it! Even James Bond never had a watch this cool. The appearance of the white strapped, rose gold version that we have is clearly a subjective issue, but so far, everyone that has seen it in our office is a fan. The screen is also strikingly clear. Set up is a little tedious if I'm being honest. Initially it had nil charge and, once we'd put it in it's bulky charging clamp bed, it didn't even appear to be charging; but it was. The odd clunky charging clamp bed enables the device to use NFC to communicate with a phone, however, the strap is pretty rigid and trying to use NFC to get the back of something like a Note close to the back of the unit is a pain.... especially if you haven't realised the strap will open fully (we really struggled). We also found, although NFC made the odd noise, it didn't allow us to connect as seamlessly to the device as it should have. Eventually we gave up and just connected it (via bluetooth) the traditional way. Then, the watch sprung into life. From the Samsung Gear app on your smartphone, you can choose the watch style, (analogue looks best), you can determine your location for the weather app and you can customise the appearance of the watch as well as set it up for notifications, transfer photos, set up the pedometer etc. There is really alot loaded into this watch to keep the most tech savvy geek entertained for all of Christmas day. Remotely controlling the tunes on your android phone is perhaps more impressive than it is genuinely useful? But swipe up on the clock and the voyeuristic magic really jumps into life. The Camera on the front offers 720p recording quality for video, or a 1.9mp camera, which produces better results than that sounds in our megapixel obsessed world. The main irk with the Sony watch was the lack of it's responsiveness, I'm not sure what processor was in it, or even if it had one, it seemed to work off hope. But this watch (if not immediately obvious, uses a touch screen) is quick to respond to gestures. I'm pretty sure we haven't fully explored the potential of this device, hell, we may only have scratched the surface, but already, it has that desirability that was missing from the Sony. This device is sleek and sophisticated, the Sony was trying hard, but ultimately falling way, way short of the mark. The unit has a microphone, it will allow you to send 'Siri like' voice commands to your phone, there's a massive array of digital clocks to choose from, some of which, combine the weather info. It alerts you to missed calls. S trainer tracks your progress on runs and tells you to speed up or slow down. You can preview messages from text or email, you can answer or decline calls from it, view your call log or photo gallery. Access facebook, your contacts and I am certain, that they'll be adding more functionality to it in the future.
A couple of things from the user manual that did grab my attention, firstly, it warns users not to keep it in their back pocket.... like you might with a mobile phone. I guess kids struggle to understand the concept of a watch, so maybe that is necessary for Samsung to point out and finally, for the more intellectually challenged, assuming that they can read the user manual, it also makes the point (seriously) "Do not bite or suck the device". I think that means, it's not a perfect gift for a 2 year old?
These warnings aside, the unit is uber cool. The watch is really smart, genuinely useful, cool and expensive, which makes it highly desirable. I like it, alot.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Microsoft Surface RT edition .... I tried.

Don't get me wrong, I love Windows mobile OS. In terms of favourites, I'd place it higher than Android, which I know many people quite justifiably disagree with. I have no beef with Microsoft, I love my X-Box too. I like Microsoft, I just despise Windows and think it's long overdue a massive makeover, to make it simpler and easier to use and less prone to system errors. iPad's just don't do system errors. Ironically iPhone's and Windows phones both 'just work'. Mac OSX isn't perfect, but it's a damn sight less imperfect and I am genuinely excited about Mavericks, which, I hope, will be even less imperfect.
My first look at a surface was at a meeting last week, when the geekiest of us, proudly produced it to show us some photos from years gone by. We found we couldn't swipe from photo to photo, instead we had to close the window down.. view the old familiar Windows Explorer underneath, then click to open the next photo. I wasn't impressed then... but now I've had a chance to have a proper play and make a proper judgement call.
The Surface has gotten several team members excited. They love the form, they love the flip out stand, and they like the SD card slot and the USB port. I too am a fan of all of these things, but not a fan that the unit doesn't come with the genuinely nice keyboard/cover. But then we dig deeper and the problems start to appear. I'm not the first person to test this and the first person told me how they liked it. I'm happy for them, so I asked.. what device would it replace?
I use my iPad for casual web browsing, controlling the Sky box, streaming music around the house and viewing pictures on the retina display. I use my Mac, for music and photo storage, video editing and general spreadsheeting and work purposes. The answer was unclear how the Surface would fit in or replace either of these gadgets. The device is advertised as 32gb, but the OS is a frankly gargantuan 16gb, so only 16gb is left for storage! The display is a blocky, low resolution last generation display. Text is not crystal clear, it's not what we're used to on tablet devices or even smartphones of this genre. Dare I say it, it's downright ugly to my eyes. I admit others said that they thought it was ok, and admittedly, it's no worse than an ipad mini, although it isn't a patch on a retina display.
Nevertheless, the problems started before we'd even studied the display. Turning the device on, took some 10 minutes. Why? The dreaded windows updates were happening. 100% complete was displayed on the screen for at least a couple of minutes. My patience hadn't even begun to wear thin. Nevertheless, we waited for it to boot up.
After boot up, the wonderful Mobile-esque tiles appeared. I have to admit. I like this sliding about simplicity to Windows 8 machines, it looks nice, it looks simple, it looks like something you'd want to use. Here's the problem. It didn't connect to Wifi. We tried, we poked around, but we were told there was no wireless device installed. Only one option in this instance.... (after a fruitless poke around in device manager) as Moss would say... "have you tried turning it off and back on again". Alas, this was, still is, and always seems to be the right way to resolve a windows error. It worked.
We booted up internet explorer and I typed www.google.co.uk... at least I thought I had, then I had another error message that asked me what I wanted about:tabs to do? The responses were 'yes' or 'no' and I didn't really understand the question. So, thinking positively, I hit yes. Nothing happened. Back to the address bar and I typed in www.google.co.uk again.
This loaded in a reasonable time and I hit the new apps button and headed for google news. I clicked on the first story, which didn't open, we waited, and nothing happened. I clicked again, nothing. About the 4th or 5th time and the page went blank. Then the news story eventually loaded. I hit back and the same page reloaded. Again, same thing. I hammered the back button, but the same story about Ed Milliband kept reappearing. I went back to the address bar and, out of curiosity, simultaneously loaded up the same page on my iPhone. news.google.co.uk. The pages loaded in about the same time on both machines. I clicked a different story and the iPhone was marginally quicker, just a second or so. The back button problem reoccured on the surface, on the iPhone the story opened on a new tab.
A couple of times during the test, we ended up at the desktop. Or... the reality of the Operating system behind the problematic device. Under the skin of the surface, this is just another incarnation of Windows. On the slick surface, no pun intended... when you click 'all apps', there's a link for disk cleanup and disk defragmenter. On a device with a solid state drive, this OS is still so dated, that it needs these two applications? Seriously?
This is the fundamental problem of the surface, is that the beauty is only skin deep. It's ironic that they've named it so appropriately.
Windows ought to start with windows mobile and work it up into a fully fledged tablet from that OS. A tablet based on Windows Mobile would be so much better than a tablet based on Windows. It's outdated, the scars run too deep for customers who lived through 1998, Me, XP and Vista! Disk defragmenter, device manages, services, control panel and cleanup are all so fundamentally outdated that they have no place on a modern computing device. Drop Windows Microsoft and catch up with the rest of the world.
I genuinely wouldn't use this, even if I were given one. I would sell it as brand new and still sealed to some poor sod who would have been better off doing his research properly.
Incidentally the RT stands for Real time, although I'm not sure why. Not impressed. At all.